Justin Snaith and the Snaith Racing team have enjoyed a stellar season, collecting an impressive haul of silverware, taking the Vodacom Durban July for the second time and they now lie poised to accept the South African training championship for 2013/2014. We asked Justin to tell us about his season.
You’ve had a very successful season with a few ups and downs – what has it been like ?
We’ve had a great season. There have been no downs for me. Trust me, when you’re leading the championship there are no downs! But it has been extremely hard work. I’ve been stuck in Durban for four months and that comes with a lot of costs. None of it comes easy, I can tell you.
There have been a few knocks and set-backs along the way, in particular in the Gold Challenge. How is Jet Explorer?
He’s doing well, thanks. South African Gr1s are tough and they’re rough and the paycheck comes with its risks. It’s part and parcel of the job. I did think a bit more could have been done about the incident, but that’s racing. His recovery has been 100% and he will race again.
How does it feel to have the championship in the bag?
I can’t believe we’ve actually done it. For us to have achieved what we’ve done this year is honestly a miracle, that’s how hard it’s been. The restrictions have been absolutely ridiculous. Cape Town has being closed due to African Horse Sickness so we haven’t been able to travel our horses the way we’d like. We can’t race in Durban with horses of certain merit ratings and we can’t run horses in PE if they’ve not been there long enough. It seems the better you do, the harder it becomes. Seriously, what my team has done, given the challenges we’ve faced, has basically been achieving the impossible. It’s taken us 25 years to get it right and I reckon the other guys will have to have a seriously bad season for us to do it again!
But seriously, it’s a helluva relief. It’s been a long time coming for the entire family – my dad has given his whole life to racing and being able to build on that is what brought us to the position of being able to win from Cape Town. Everyone said it could never be done and being able to achieve it without a single runner in Joburg I think is super impressive and probably makes it more satisfying. No-one has done it harder. The movement restrictions, lesser stakes, difficulty in getting runners at some of the centres – we’ve done it despite all the impossibilities that were imposed on us.
What are the secrets to your success?
Having the owners we have is a huge key to our success – they trust and understand every part of my family – and for good reason – any one of them could train a horse in their own right, but we all have a role to play in making Snaith Racing the success that it is. Having my family behind me is a massive advantage. Knowing that other parts of the business are taken care of, frees me to concentrate on my horses. There’s nothing easy about this job – it’s stressful and it’s hard – so it’s important to have people you can trust on your team. Judy Pickford has been with me since I started – that’s a big plus – and I’ve also got two young assistants in Justin Andrews and Uzel Mouton and Estelle Blake manages thing for us in PE. Another big bonus is John Freeman who has a fantastic eye for a horse – he completes the team when it comes to sales and picking the horses. You’ve got to have someone like that to steady the team at sales and make sure I get the best horses. He has also become a very close family friend.
Is there any specific type of horse you like or prefer to work with?
In all honesty, we prefer value horses and try to buy where there’s value. If there’s a trend for a certain stallion and people start paying a lot for the progeny, we tend to look elsewhere. We don’t follow the trends, we follow value. I will have my say when I feel it’s needed and if I feel I can bring something to the party in recommending a horse we’re going to buy, but I pretty much leave it to the rest of the team. If there’s one I think we must buy, I’ll put my opinion forward, but I mostly leave that to John, my brother and my dad. Those are their strong points and they focus on that and I don’t like to get too involved. I’m more worried about the horses that are in my yard, than the ones that might be there in the future.
How do you deal with the publicity?
I know some people think I enjoy being in front of the camera, but to be honest, I’d probably prefer to spend that time at the yard. I don’t mind being at race meetings, but at that stage my part of the work is done. Winning is more an affirmation and sense of relief at a job well done than any sort of glory at leading in or doing interviews. Obviously the publicity is part of the job, but it does come with a lot of negativity.
What kind of negativity?
There are definite darker sides to racing and that seem to come with success. I get threatened regularly, but it’s part of the job and I accept that it comes with the territory. You can’t let it get to you. I’ve been doing this ever since I was a kid and it’s second nature to me now. I think it’s what makes me a better trainer – whatever is thrown at me, I can deal with it. Anyone can train a horse, it’s what you do when the wheels fall off – that’s the difference between being good and being great. Successful trainers are the ones who know what to do when things go wrong and who can pick up the pieces and carry on.
You are famously very hard working and very hands-on with your string – do you think that’s part of your recipe for success?
You have to. I sat down about six years ago and asked myself what I was actually trying to achieve and decided that I could either carry on the way I was and stay at that level, or I could do something different. I asked myself how Terrance Millard got to where he was and the answer I came to was that he was an incredibly hard worker and he gave everything to his yard. It was as simple as that. So I decided I was going to have to give up everything else and just focus on my job and put everything else second. That decision made all the difference. You’ve just got to put your mind to it and get the job done and that’s what we did.
It was my vision, but I have a very strong team behind me and we all worked hard and that helped a helluva lot. We drive the horses down to the beach regularly and ride them ourselves and we’ve spent hours driving to race meetings. My dad and I used to drive to PE, race, and then get back behind the wheel and drive home again. That’s what it took. Lots of pain and hours and doing it ourselves.
Snaith Racing has had a lot of success with your stable jockeys over the years – tell us about their role.
Our jockeys have to have a good work ethic – they have to, or they’ll feel left out! But having a good stable jockey and a good relationship is very important. Karl Neisius rode his first winner for my dad in 1972 and he rode a winner for me just the other day, so you can do the maths on that – those are some scary stats! We’ve had the likes of Felix Coetzee, Glen Hatt and now Richard Fourie and they’re all very hard workers. Right now I’d say Richard is the complete rider. I don’t think he was quite there before he went to Hong Kong, but he gained so much experience over there. I’d say he’s now the perfect all round jockey and he’s got the right base to become champion.
What are the plans for Legislate?
We don’t want him to go back to Durban. He’s done everything he needs to do here, so it wouldn’t be worth his while. Plus it’s a lot of risk. His leg took a hard knock in the July – that was a seriously painful experience for him and we were lucky to escape serious injury, so we’re going to be very careful where we go with him now. He’ll have a bit of a break and then he’ll aim for the summer season. We’re aiming for the Queen’s Plate and the Met and if everything goes well ,then going abroad will be the next option. Hopefully by some sort of miracle our quarantine set up is more relaxed by then, but I’d rather not get my hopes up and we’re expecting to go the long haul route. Dennis Evans has got involved from the Singapore side and is trying to come up with alternative, but we’ll have to see what happens.
So, with the championship in the bag, where to for Snaith Racing from here?
We’ve had five Gr1 winners this season and are hoping for one more next Saturday with Readytogorightnow or Run For It, but it all ends on 31 July. After that, it’s back to square one and we start all over again. The first of August is the start of another season and we’ll just crack on and decide what I want to accomplish next. Joburg has always been a big option for us, but the process has been very slow moving. It’s hard because there aren’t many stables and if you do get stables you’ve got to be out in three months. In three months you’ve just got your horses to acclimatise and then they want you to be out again. So it’s a very expensive exercise and I’ve had my best horses injured in Joburg, so we’ve got some decisions to make. I still think that’s the way forward for us, but we’ve got to get the logistics sorted out. In the meantime, we fight on and stick to doing what we do best, which is looking out for our horses and our owners.